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Clipped Wings
Joe Levit
December 15, 2004

In the animal kingdom, birds become flightless either because they are large or fast enough to avoid predation a high percentage of the time, or because they live in areas with no natural predators. In the NFL, birds eschew flight only if they can develop another strategy for survival. Atlanta apparently can take a pass on soaring for their scores, to the extreme disappointment of anyone who drafted one of their wide receivers.

The Falcons are an impressive 10-3 on the season, and have already clinched their division. They are winning with weaponry on the ground, paired with a disruptive defense. Owners of the Falcon rushers are faring fine in touchdown-only leagues, but Atlanta has put forth a poor ranking at wide receiver for a team that was adopting the west-coast offense.

The fantasy wreck at wide receiver on this team is composed of guys with almost no statistics to speak of. This is surprising, since Atlanta seemed to offer some intriguing fantasy options at wideout before the season started. Peerless Price was seen as a good number two fantasy wideout, who might be a bit underrated. Brian Finneran was seen as a nice sleeper pick, someone to nab in the last rounds to see if he could establish a receiving rapport with Vick. And, there was unknown quantity Michael Jenkins, the Falcons’ second first-round pick in the 2004 draft. Any rookie has the chance to make an impact, especially on a team needing help at the wide receiver position.

What has transpired instead is a team that has produced a total of three measly touchdowns from their wide receivers. Not one Atlanta receiver has even 500 yards yet this year. After 13 weeks, Peerless Price is averaging 36.6 yards per game. Brian Finneran has no touchdowns. Jenkins has caught four passes for 89 yards, not in one game but for the season!

Tight end Alge Crumpler has been a boon for fantasy owners this season, as he has benefited from Vick’s adjustment to the new offense. Crumpler has 736 yards already, and six scores, a very good year for any tight end. But his success has meant fewer plays that end in a wide receiver completion. Here is the box score for the most recent Falcons game:

Atlanta Rushing

Warrick Dunn 25 103 4.1 13 0
T.J. Duckett 12 65 5.4 28 4
Michael Vick 2 31 15.5 19 0
Stanley Pritchett 6 18 3.0 8 0
Justin Griffith 1 2 2.0 2 0
Team 46 219 4.8 28 4

Atlanta Receiving

Dez White 3 34 11.3 18 0
Alge Crumpler 1 22 22.0 22 0
Brian Finneran 2 21 10.5 17 0
Justin Griffith 2 21 10.5 13 0
Michael Jenkins 2 20 10.0 11 0
Peerless Price 2 18 9.0 13 0
Warrick Dunn 1 9 9.0 9 0
Team 13 145 11.2 22 0

Right away, you can see two things about the passing game. First, the receivers don’t get many opportunities in this offense. The top four wideouts had 3, 2, 2, and 2 catches for 34, 21, 20 and 18 yards, respectively. That precision illustrates the second point – the Falcons spread the ball around. Warrick Dunn and fullback Justin Griffith have garnered looks in this offense. With Griffith now out for the season, you can just count on more of those passes going to Dunn.

The Falcons have no wide receivers within the top 50, but three rushers within the top 36 in the NFL, two in the top 20. The versatility of Vick does more than take away pass opportunities for the receivers. It takes away the potential for those receivers to make a big play with those opportunities.

As long as the Falcons continue to win, they won’t be wringing their hands over the poor statistics they offer fantasy owners. They are an exciting team, but it is abundantly clear that all Atlanta wide receivers deserve to be benched in fantasy football. Wait until you see some semblance of a passing game before wasting any waiver wire action on them either.